Russia's ongoing attempts to stir up trouble in the West and around the world have not been limited to its Crimean shenanigans. In what could spell the start of a second Cold War, Russian military aircraft have reportedly been probing American airspace with a nuclear-capable blast from the past: the Tu-95 strategic bomber.
The Tupolev Tu-95 (NATO designation: The Bear) is a four-engine turboprop long-range bomber — essentially the Soviet Union's answer to America's B-52 Stratofortress. It entered service in the mid-1950s as a means of delivering nuclear strikes against the West (before the days of ICBMs) and immediately became an iconic aircraft of the USSR fleet.
At 46m long with a 50m wingspan, the plane's quartet of 14,800 shp turboprop engines propel it and 15,000kg of bombs to speeds in excess of 925km/h and a provide a range of 15,000km. With aerial refuelling, however, these planes can theoretically circumnavigate the globe. Fun fact: the tips of the turboprop blades actually move faster than the speed of sound, creating a whirl of small sonic booms as they move, which also makes the Tu-95 one of the loudest planes ever built.
Throughout the Cold War, these planes were utilised for vital maritime surveillance and targeting missions in addition to standoff operations. What's more, the Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear weapon ever exploded was delivered to its test range aboard aTu-95 in 1961. And, through a series of upgrades and modernisations, the fleet is expected to remain in service through 2040.
Until then, Russia seems content to use them to poke around American interests in the Pacific — from Guam to Hawaii to Alaska — and, more worryingly, the California coastline.
Speaking at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank last week, chief of the US Air Force in the Pacific, General Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, informed a conference group that Russian planes had been all up in American airspace in recent months. According to Reuters:
"That's to demonstrate their capability to do it, it's to gather intel," Carlisle said, adding that the surveillance had included observation of military exercises involving U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan.
Under normal, calmer circumstances, these patrols wouldn't be a particularly big deal. However with populist uprisings and proxy wars becoming the new normal, Russia's actions take on a far more ominous tone. [Jalopnik - Wiki]